The Senators Secret Weapons
I was on the radio last week talking about the Ottawa Senators chances going into Game 4. The Sens were up 2-1 at that point. After witnessing the Senators gem of a win (5-1) at home in Game 3, I was impressed with the Senators ability to continue their winning ways in the playoffs, even against the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
Secret Weapon #1: Team Chemistry
Ottawa's "Secret Weapon" I proclaimed, is the "Team Chemistry" the players have developed over the course of the season, especially through the playoffs. In particular, their ability to play cohesively, supporting one and another in the defensive 1-3-1 system coach Guy Boucher has employed. And, lead by team captain Eric "The Red" Karlsson, the Senators have transformed themselves from one of the weakest defensive teams in the league to one of the best. The Sens have successfully imposed their game strategy on each and every series in the playoffs. Getting the series to Game 7 against a heavily favored Penguins team is testamount to how well they have been able to overcome their opponents by imposing 'their game' on the game.
It was difficult for some like Bobby Ryan to adapt at first, but everyone is onboard now and the team and fans are wreaping the benefits. Bobby Ryan, in particular, is excelling in the playoffs, becoming the all-round superstar everyone thought he could be. He has all the tools: Size, strength, disceptive speed, great hands and skill, and of late, the grit necesary to be an excellent hockey player. While the Senators can't match the Pens top three players of Crosby, Malkin and Kessel, hockey is the ultimate team game and when the Senators are playing in-synch, they can beat anyone.
But, of course, as soon as I brought it up, they came apart at the seams. First, with a disappointing 3-2 loss at home in Game 4, where teammates could be seen barking at one another, and then with the great debacle, 7-0 body slam they received in Game 5.
Fortunately, the Senators pulled it together again in Game 6, playing a solid team-game and outwilling the Pens in a 2-1 victory to even the series at three games apiece, and send it back to Pittsburg for Game 7 tonight.
Secret Weapon #2: Craig Anderson
Stopping 45 of 46 shots in the face of elimination, the second time he's won a playoff elimination game while stopping over 40 shots, is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Ottawa Senators. Craig Anderson's history making performance in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final was exactly the motivation the Senators needed to come back together. Once it was clear he was 'In-the-zone', the Senators players settled down and began to play a real team-game again.
In Game 6 Craig Anderson showed why he is a better goalie than Murray at this stage in his career. Its not a fair comparison despite Murray's Stanley Cup, Anderson has a full career of experience to draw upon. Nevertheless, when the chips were down in Game 6, Anderson rose to the challenge while Murray flailed away with his glove, missing or fumbling a number of shots. If the Senators are to win tonight, Anderson will need to have another record setting night.
Secret Weapon #3: Chris Neil
No one can dismiss the positive effect Senators veteran Chris Neil had on Games 5 and 6 in the NYR series. Ottawa Senators first line centre Kyle Turris made it clear after Game 5 in that series that he feels more emboldened with Neil in the line up. Neil is not just a fighter. As all Sens fans know, Chris Neil can change the tempo and course of a game with his 'crash and bang' style of forechecking. And he has decent hands, so if there is a puck lying around the crease, he's more than capable of putting it in.
Its Game 7 and this may be Neil's last game as an Ottawa Senator. I say don't hold anything back, put Chris Neil back in the line-up.
Senators hockey is simple hockey
If the Senators are to win tonight, they will need to play their best game yet. I expect it to be an extremely fast paced game, with lots of hard hitting, stick work, etc. Everything that make Game 7s so special.
The Senators can't sit back and play defence all night. While they do need to weather the first 10 minutes, they will also need to spend more time forechecking than they often do. Its well known the Penguins' defence is banged up. Without Chris Letang they lack the play making defenseman to equal the Sens' Eric Karlsson.
'Get on them and get on them often' is my advice to Senators forwards. Don't let them break out without an effort and without the threat of turning the puck over. Crash and bang and make them pay for every pass they make. Continue to play your team game by supporting each other, filling the lanes, blocking shots, by going the extra mile to prevent goals and to slow down the Pens superstars. Go hard, Go fast, don't leave anything in the tank. Direct lots of shots on net, get in-front of Murray and crash the net for rebounds!
Get it out (past the blueline) of our zone but don't ice the puck. Limit the Penguins opportunities by keeping them to the outside in our zone. Most importantly, keep it simple and have fun--Sens Army will be with you every moment of the game, don't ever forget that. Play with Pride. We're waiting to celebrate your return early tomorrow morning.
Go Sens Go!